Food incubators: bringing dreams to life
Getting a new food business off the ground is no easy feat. Obviously, you need a killer idea. But a great idea isn’t enough if you want to succeed in what is an increasingly competitive environment. You need a solid business plan, technical know-how and an understanding of the complex regulations surrounding food production. Then you have to find a location where you can make the magic happen. Ultimately, if you want to succeed, you need the right advice and support. This is where food incubators can help.
Food incubators offer food start-ups a dedicated space and support network for their businesses to flourish. They can provide training in everything from food safety to sales, marketing and logistics. They can also provide networking opportunities, financial advice and even access to commercial-grade kitchen facilities.
Most importantly, food incubators provide those who might not otherwise have had the opportunity with the chance to make their dreams a reality. Further, in a food environment that’s increasingly being dominated by a handful of large corporations, food incubators are also an important player in the local food movement. By helping small businesses to thrive, food incubators can boost local economies, support sustainable food systems, encourage cultural diversity and provide consumers with more choice.
Thanks to the growing number of food incubators operating in Australia, our food environments are now becoming richer and more diverse. So if you’ve got a big idea that you’d like to see come to fruition, read on, as we take a look at just some of the programs on offer, as well as the success stories that they’ve helped to bring about.
FoodLab Sydney is a for-purpose food business incubator based at the University of Sydney. The program operates with the belief that serving the community’s food needs in a multicultural city like Sydney can only be achieved if there’s broad diversity in offerings available. The people behind FoodLab understand that the best way to increase diversity in Sydney’s food system is to provide opportunities for a broader range of people who want to start their own food business – especially those who might not otherwise have had the kind of backing and encouragement that’s needed to get a business off the ground.
FoodLab offers both a “taster” program and a full program. The taster program is a two-week workshop series that welcomes food entrepreneurs into the FoodLab network and lays the foundation of food business. The full four-month program helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses and provides a critical introduction to the food system in Sydney. Students are provided with an introduction to food entrepreneurship and sustainability, as well as hands-on technical, kitchen and food safety skills. They also get the opportunity to connect with a wide range of local food retailers, manufacturers and changemakers.
Alumni include Mark Sponberg of vegan cheese business Dilectio, Melissa Woodley of sustainable supper club Veggie Table, nutrition coach Hui Chii Lau of Pomiculture and Justine Lawson of handcrafted Tasmanian bush food business, IndigiBites.
To find out more about FoodLab or to register your interest, head to foodlabsydney.com
The newly opened Food Incubator + Network Centre (FoodINC) was created by Melbourne Innovation Centre, Melbourne Polytechnic and Melbourne’s North Food Group in response to the gap in access to affordable, commercial-quality facilities and education services for small, local food businesses. It provides Melbourne’s food and hospitality entrepreneurs with the resources they need to turn their creative ideas into viable business operations.
Melbourne Polytechnic’s industry-expert educators provide training across compliance, occupational health and safety and food safety. Food start-ups joining the FoodINC community can also draw from the institute’s portfolio of short and nationally accredited training and degree programs. These encompass everything from commercial cookery, hospitality, winemaking and horticulture to business and agriculture.
FoodINC membership also offers networking and mentoring opportunities, online training resources, subsidised professional training and development and access to commercial kitchen appliances. Members will learn about the costs associated with establishing a food business, mandatory food safety compliance, marketing and digital support, plus connections to financial, logistics, legal and sales networks through FoodINC partners.
To find out more, or to register your interest, head to foodincubator.com.au
Rocket Seeder is a purpose-driven, free three to six-month start-up accelerator program that works to support early-stage start-ups that are aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The most recent Rocket Seeder program focused on food waste, supporting 15 Australian start-ups and spin-offs of existing businesses that are solving food waste and food loss problems in Victoria. Among the participants were Forkful, an app connecting consumers to unsold food from local restaurants at a discount; and Seaweedery, which transforms seafood processing waste into sauces and other ingredients.
Rocket Seeder helps innovators and founders to take their business to the next level by providing them with the tools they need to scale. Participants gain access to support from experienced mentors, receive advice and guidance on how to accelerate their business, learn how to refine their business model and are provided with networking opportunities.
Successful alumni include Julie and Paul Kos of The Smoked Egg Company, Jo Stewart of The Gourmet Goat Lady, Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey and Toni Barton of Lamb Bacon.
Rocket Seeder programs are currently being run in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and South Australia. For information on upcoming programs, head to rocketseeder.com
Monash Food Incubator
The Monash Food Incubator is located at both Monash University research facilities and the Monash Food Innovation centre in Victoria. It supports food and agriculture start-ups and entrepreneurs in developing new products and ideas and provides coaching and mentoring for product development and business growth.
Monash Food Incubator programs are open to all entrepreneurs and businesses in food and agriculture; you don’t have to be a Monash University student or alumnus. The incubator’s state-of-the-art kitchen and co-working space facilitate a range of programs with specialised partners to support each stage of the lifecycle of a new business. You might have a great idea but be unsure how to get it off the ground, or you might already have an established small business that you want to take to the next level. Even large business that want to innovate to meet consumers’ changing needs can take part.
Businesses that have benefited from Monash Food Incubator programs include 99th Monkey nut butters, Mingle Seasoning sauces and seasonings and Kooee! Snacks.
For more information on the programs available, head to monash.edu
FNQ Food Incubator
The FNQ Food Incubator services the Far North Queensland (FNQ) region with mentoring, training and resources to develop and showcase FNQ’s small-scale and start-up food-focused businesses, producers and manufacturers. The program aims to help businesses develop and create new products, build a solid business foundation and convert ideas into commercial reality. It offers structured training programs, culinary business workshops, food business consulting services and technical support.
Sister organisation the Food Manufacturing Hub helps start-ups take their food idea from fresh ingredient to packaged product. The hub’s state-of-the-art manufacturing kitchen facility and team of highly trained technicians help can entrepreneurs to modify recipes to allow them to be made at a commercial scale, or experiment with and trial new products.
An online learning portal offers free modules in everything from getting started in the food industry through to marketing, distribution and even food photography. The FNQ Food Incubator frequently hosts events to connect interested participants with Far North Queensland food business stakeholders. It also showcases locally made products and holds workshops and information sessions about opportunities in the region.
To find out more, or for a free consultation, head to fnqfoodincubator.com.au
Looking for inspiration? Check out these three Melbourne businesses that have gone from grassroots to national success stories, this family business that’s carrying on a proud tradition and this company that began as a hobby and now has a cult following. For more clever and sustainable business ideas, you’ll also want to read about The Pinnaroo Farmer, Taoca vegan Brazilian crepes and home-cooked meal service FoodSt.